Government imposes new backdoor to cripple press freedom

The pressure on the media in Turkey has reached a new peak with the recently introduced Periodicals Regulation,and especially its parts concerning the official Press Announcement Agency (Basın İlan Kurumu).

The agency was founded in 1961 to subsidise the press, which in return printed official advertisements and announcements of state bodies. Since then these subsidies have become vital parts of the incomes of many periodic publications like daily newspapers. The new regulations now promote auto-censorship by forcing the publishers to choose between either the subsidies or critical reporting. The new regulation states, that news outlets may not employ journalists, who have charges by the state attorney filed against them for crimes relating to the Anti-Terror Law or crimes against the constitution. Those publications are deprived of the right to print official announcements and advertisements, unless the journalists are fired within five days. Moreover, the periodicals published in other languages then Turkish are no longer eligible for the subsidy scheme.

The trade unions, lawyers and opposition parties have criticised the regulation for violating the universal principle of the presumption of innocence, the Turkish Constitution, the Treaty of Lausanne (by discriminating against the minorities), and the European Convention on Human Rights. The regulation is especially open to government abuse as even the charge without any court sentence brings about said punishment, and there are already problems with the application of the anti-terror laws in Turkey. The EU has concerns that Turkey applies these laws too broadly, and is pushing for a revision in the legislation as well as in the practices “in line with European standards, notably by better aligning the definition of terrorism in order to narrow the scope” as a precondition for the visa liberalisation with Turkey.

Freedom of expression in Turkey has deteriorated significantly in recent years, especially after the breakdown of the peace process in July 2015, and the failed coup attempt 3 months ago. The country ranks 53 places below where it used to be a decade ago in the Press Freedom Index of Reporters without Borders (RSF), occupying the 151th place out of 180. It is also categorized among the countries that are “not free” by the Freedom of the Press 2016 report of the US think tank Freedom House.

Critiques blame the government for abusing the current state of emergency to suppress the opposition and to target groups that had nothing to do with the failed coup attempt in mid-July. At the end of September, the government shut down 23 TV and radio stations of Kurds, Alevites, and leftists, raising the total number to around 150 in three months, a policy that left three thousand journalists without a job. According to RSF, the number of jailed journalists rose from below forty to over a hundred twenty within these three months.

It is feared that the government will attain a near total control over the media with this change. With the charges against the journalists, closed TV & radio channels, and newspapers, and the confiscation of their properties, the Turkish media has unavoidably become more monolithic and dependent on the government.